1115 Meatloaf: An Improvisation

Mark your calendars: today was the first time in over two weeks that I prepared meat at home.  And oh, what a glorious portion of meat it was!  That’s right, I made meatloaf.

I understand that there are many who have misgivings about meatloaf.  It’s more of a food concept than a tangible thing – I mean, it’s a loaf of meat, but what do you know conclusively about it otherwise?  You don’t know what’s in it.  You don’t know what’s on it.  You don’t know if it’s going to be moist or dry, rich or flavorless.  Even if you’ve prepared the meatloaf yourself, you still have no guarantees.

We haven’t made meatloaf since March – for no good reason – but we’ve both been craving healthier versions of family classics, so I gave a new recipe a try tonight.  And by ‘a new recipe’, I mean that I just made something up and was terribly pleased when it turned out well.

Meatloaf: An Improvisation

1 lb pork (we used an fresh (i.e. not smoked) ham steak, which I then ground in the food processor)
A couple of thick slices of day-old bread (we used a heel of Zingerman’s Farm Bread), torn or ground into crumbs
1 small onion, finely diced (or tossed in the food processor as well!)
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable broth (could sub any other kind of broth, water, beer?, milk – just some liquid to keep it moist)
1 generous teaspoon fennel seeds
1 generous teaspoon oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 375 and line a loaf pan with parchment paper (optional but highly recommended).  Take off your rings and thoroughly mix all ingredients together by hand in a big bowl.  You can use a spoon, but it won’t be as effective or tactile.  Form the mixture into a loaf and place in the pan.  Bake for 45 minutes, then check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer – it should reach 160 and come out clean when inserted in the center of the loaf.  Remove from oven, then remove loaf from pan and let it cool on a platter for a few minutes before serving.

This should make 4-6 portions, depending on how hungry you are and what you’re eating with it.  Tonight we had boiled red potatoes from our garden, but this loaf would also be killer with mashed potatoes or some crisp green beans.

1110 Tomukun Noodle Bar

A nice dinner out with friends tonight.  We hadn’t managed to connect with Juli and Dave since August – while we’ve been gone a fair amount, Juli travels even more often – so it was lovely to meet up over big bowls of steaming broth and noodles at Tomukun, a noodle bar just off of Central Campus.  I had lunch with Shana there in early June and have been dreaming of their butter corn ramen ever since – especially after Shane went with his mom during Art Fair and tried their pork buns.

Pork Buns, Tomukun, Ann Arbor
Photo by dianaschnuth

A whole season passed before we made it back to Tomukun, which is just a damned shame. We were both famished, having exercised after work and avoided any snacking so as to fully enjoy the bowls of wonderful ahead of us.  I feel like we might’ve been negligent dining companions, so focused were we on getting to the bottom of our bowls.  Shane had the pork buns and the duck ramen, which he enjoyed but not as much as the butter corn ramen, which inexplicably neither of us ordered.  I had the kitsune udon – literally “fox noodles” – and while I have no idea what foxes have to do with my dinner, I did thoroughly enjoy the sweet broth, fish cake, spongy fried tofu, and slurpy noodles.  We returned home full, happy, and warmed from the inside out.

Try it at home:
Momofuku Pork Buns from Momofuku for 2
Kitsune udon from Epicurious

0929 This and That

I’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow, but for today, I thought I’d touch on a few things outside the normal scope of this project.  Oh, and we had macaroni and cheese tonight – Annie’s, the stuff with the “sharp cheddar” cheese powder.  Shane also sauteed a couple of sausages, which were the best thing about the meal.  Neither of us liked the “cheese”, despite normally liking Annie’s.

First: Crock Pots.  It seems to be the season to buy one, inherit one, or remember that you have one and wonder what to do with it.  We each brought a crock pot to the relationship, though neither of us used ours all that regularly.  We now have one, and it is brought out very infrequently, but when we do use it, it’s awesome.  I’ve previously blogged about using ours for chili and pulled pork – I also use it to soak and then cook garbanzo beans for hummus.  Whenever I’m asked what to do with a crockpot (or slow cooker – same thing), I point people to A Year of Slow Cooking, which is exactly what it sounds like: one family’s attempt to use their slow cooker(s) every day for a year.  That project ended a year or two ago, but she hasn’t stopped posting recipes, and has also written a slow cooker cookbook.  If you have a crockpot or are considering getting one, I highly recommend her site.

Second: Kitchen Aspirations.  Not Derby Pie posted a list of her New Year’s Resolutions – food and other cooking-related aspirations that she wants to tackle in the next year.  I think this is a great idea, and I’m kicking around my own list.  Among other things, it will include learning to bake other kinds of bread – I can make a mean sandwich loaf, but I dream of baguettes and sourdoughs.  Perhaps a 12 months, 24 loaves project is in order for next year?  Stay tuned!  I’d also love to hear your kitchen or food aspirations in the comments!

Third: This Blog.  Nine months down, three to go on my Kitchen Diaries project.  There are many things I’ve enjoyed about it, not the least of which has been all the great conversations I’ve had with you about what you’re cooking, including the very random encounter at the Homegrown Festival with someone who recognized me from this site (hello!).  I’m sure I won’t stop blogging about what we’re cooking and eating after December 31, but it certainly won’t be as often.

0926 “Ham” and Cornbread, y’all

To some extent, we didn’t realize what we were getting into when we decided to buy half of a pig.  We didn’t get some of the cuts that we wanted – we got the meat, but not processed the way we requested.  We opted not to get specific cuts smoked because we’d planned on processing them ourselves – except that we can’t really do that because we didn’t get the cuts we requested.  The net result of this is that we have a lot of fresh ham, and no idea what to do with it.

This was my first attempt at doing something with one of the larger ham cuts.  I’d done some internet research, and hit on this recipe, which called for fresh ham but didn’t require special equipment.  Shane worried that there might not be enough acid, but I was confident in the acidity of the soda – it breaks down teeth! – and so let the crockpot full of ham and sugar do its thing all day.  Sure enough, by dinnertime the acidity and the liquid had done their jobs, and the ham was completely falling apart.  No pink glazed goodness for us, oh no.  More like a very sweet pulled pork.

Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t good – it was – but it certainly didn’t look like this:

Post Glazing and Roasting
Photo by su-lin

Better luck next time, eh? This time, though, we had the ham with a roasted radish salad, polenta cornbread, and a big rye beer. For dessert, a rough pear crumble and a bit of Matt and Shannon’s pawpaw ice cream.  For a dinner comprised entirely of recipe experiments, I think it was a success!

Coca-Cola Braised Ham from CD Kitchen
Polenta Cornbread from Yum Recipes
Pear Crumble from Eating Well

Hog + Rocks

Back in the day, a very long time before I knew Shane, he was really into electronic music.  I’m not sure if his devotion to electronic music reached the same heights as my devotion to a certain Canadian band, but I do know that he was similarly involved in online communities related to his musical passions, most specifically the IDM mailing list.  His work trip to SF last fall provided the opportunity to finally meet Kiya, one of his friends from the IDM list – as well as a fellow aficionado of fine denim, good food, and good beer.  Calling Kiya a denim aficionado is a bit of an understatement.  He and his wife own amazing denim stores in SF, New York, and, most recently, Los Angeles.  He’s a dangerous – or fantastic – sort of friend to have when you are a gentleman of discriminating denim tastes.  Long story short: we were looking forward to hanging out with Kiya and his wife, and were delighted when they suggested dinner Monday night.

After a full day of walking and driving and photo taking, we were exceedingly happy to be picked up – along with our luggage – by Kiya and Demitra and whisked off in the direction of the Mission.  Our first stop for the night was Zeitgeist, an intense bar featuring the best Bloody Mary in the city.  As we walked in, Kiya told us that the bar goes through more beer than any other bar in the city, which I would believe based on the hipster population density on the patio.  True to form, my Bloody Mary was excellent – though a bit spicy for me – and packed to the brim with snacks:

bloody mary ..
Photo by fatniu

Alcohol blankets in place against the cool SF night, we were off to our next stop: dinner at Hog and Rocks. We were interested in having some good seafood while in SF, and Hog and Rocks specializes in ham and oysters, so it seemed like a perfect spot.  Hog and Rocks has only been open since mid-summer, and I’m guessing this interesting and moderately-priced spot is going to be a lot harder to get into by the time we get back to SF.

We were seated at the bar and directed to three menus: dinner, ham/oysters, and shot/beer. That’s right – shot and a beer. And not in the Irish car bomb sense – more like a pairing of a shot and a beer. All were priced at around $8 – an outstanding price in Ann Arbor, much less in an up-and-coming spot in SF. I had a shot of a very floral gin along with a Sam Adams Light – the ladies’ choice, obviously.  On to dinner, and to a serious consultation of the ham and oyster menu. We decided to order two small plates each, giving us lots of delicious things to sample over the course of the evening. My two came from the ham menu – an Italian speck served with melon, and a Spanish jamon serrano with olive oil, saba, and a nutty mahon cheese. Both were delicious and just the right size for a few bites each. From the main menu:

  • Ham and cheese corn fritters – a little too doughy, but good dipped in a spicy mustard.
  • Sea scallops crudo – didn’t realize that ‘crudo’ meant ‘basically raw’ – the plate wasn’t all that appetizing when it arrived, but the basil and citrus came together nicely with the jiggly scallop.
  • Cast iron octopus – I’d had my cephalopod fill at Flour + Water, but this looked intriguing and apparently tasted even better.
  • Chicken wing confit – the name was enough to convince Kiya that this might be the dinner of his dreams.  The wings were good, but not dream-worthy, though they did feature the house hot sauce.
  • Cavatelli pasta with English peas, egg, and ham – really the stand-out dish for both of us – pure comfort food without the weight you’d expect from a pasta dish.  Along with last night’s succotash, I’m newly convinced that you can make a simple and lovely pasta the centerpiece of a meal without having to feel guilty and/or run a 5K the next morning.

I pocketed the ham menu to see if we can recreate some of the dishes for future snack dinners, though I doubt we’ll be trying the oysters at home.  With plans made for the next day’s Russian River trip, Kiya and Demitra delivered us to our Airbnb room, and we slept the sweet sleep of the tired and full.

If you go:

199 Valencia St (Valencia and Duboce)
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 255-7505

Get a Bloody Mary, if that’s your thing. Demitra also highly recommended the tamales sold by the tamale lady on the patio.

Hog and Rocks
3431 19th St (19th & Mission)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 550-8627

Get a shot and a beer and some really excellent ham.

0823 Watery Pork Goulash

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I planned my entire day around this meal.  See, I’d planned on making this for dinner on Sunday night – a dish that requires 3 hours in the oven is just not feasible for the average worknight, but is totally doable on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  When Shane texted me mid-day, though, to tell me that he wouldn’t be home in time for dinner, I decided that I would just go into and then leave work a bit early, and we could have a late dinner.

Fast forward to 6:30 or so tonight.  I was using a considerably smaller bone-in pork shoulder, so I pulled it after 2 1/4 hours in the oven, only to discover that there was WAY too much cooking liquid.  WAY too much.  I removed the pork from the pot, cranked up the heat, and reduced the liquid for half an hour before serving.

A brief digression: I like to write in cookbooks.  I find it really helpful to note recipe hacks, total failures, or successful pairings for future cooking.  I also enjoy opening a cookbook and being reminded of that time in 2003 when Dan and Michele came over for dinner and trivia and we drank too much riesling while eating spaghetti with sweet cherry tomatoes.  Or the time in 2004 when I hosted Meat Night and made Lebanese Lemon Chicken and we ate around the low coffee table.  A correct interpretation of my notes could’ve saved a lot of disappointment tonight – however, I read “cover halfway” as referring to the lid and the cook time, not the amount of liquid.  *shakes fist at the sky*

Even with the half-hour of reducing, the broth was insipid, and the pork – lacking the flavor that should’ve been infused by the broth – had already attained that gamey flavor and consistency that I find so off-putting in leftovers.  While Shane adjusted the seasoning on his dish and happily finished it, I ate a few bites and then pushed my plate away.  We left the pot on the burner for another 2 1/2 hours, by which time it started to resemble the photo from the cookbook.  We’ll see if it’s any better in leftovers for dinner tomorrow.

Spicy pork and chilli-pepper goulash from Jamie at Home

  • The recipe specifies to “pour in enough water to just cover the meat”.  Instead, add enough water to cover the meat halfway.  You’re going to be covering the pot, so this will be an adequate amount of cooking liquid for a good, tender braise.
  • The recipe claims to make 4-6 portions, but we’ve halved it both times and easily still made 4-6 portions.
  • You could probably use double the amount of each of the spices, though I’d suggest going easy on doubling the paprika the first time you make this recipe.  And note that it calls for smoked paprika, though I might try a spicier paprika if you have it on hand.

0809 Curried Pork, Cilantro Pesto

I had intended to make Curried-Pork Noodles at some point this week, but when we came home yesterday and discovered our freezer minutely ajar, the pork was moved up to the front of the meal queue.  Once this was discovered, I should’ve just removed the bones from the chops and ground the meat up straight away – but alas, I was tired and flustered, and so I went to bed instead, dreaming of kebabs as I fell asleep.

I woke up this morning motivated to make my imagined kebabs, and in doing so made one of those stupid prep mistakes that only happens when you’re not quite awake.  One bowl contained cubed pork topped with yogurt for a marinade.  The other bowl contained my breakfast yogurt.  You can guess which bowl received the generous spoonful of curry powder.  Augh!

Since I’d already started playing with the idea of the recipe, I decided to take it a step further.  The cilantro that I picked up last week was getting a bit limp, so I whizzed it up in the food processor with a chopped up banana pepper, olive oil, the juice of one lemon, and salt and pepper, which produced a pesto-like sauce with just a bit of heat.  While the pork broiled away on skewers in the toaster oven (instead of on the grill – curse you, rain!), I made a pot of white rice.  I was overly cautious with the cook time on the pork, but the moisture from the rice and the “pesto” made it work.

In the end, we had a fantastic and simple dinner with pretty complex flavors – and I felt like a contestant on Top Chef, having remixed the components of a recipe into something different, yet recognizably like the original.

0719 Albóndigas con Salsa de Tomate

Oh my gosh, you guys. Tonight’s dinner may have redeemed the Spanish cookbook experiment. Now why couldn’t I have just called this dish ‘meatballs in tomato sauce’? Because then I would miss out on a perfectly good excuse to pretend that I can speak, well, any Spanish at all. I mean, I can ask about the location of the bathroom, and I can say that I want more of something, but that’s about it.

Anyway, this was super easy and definitely worth heating up the kitchen on an already hot night. I could walk you through the process, but I actually have photos for once, and the whole recipe is at the bottom of this post. So, albóndigas from start to finish:

Making Albóndigas

Albóndigas in the frying pan

Making Salsa de Tomate

Albóndigas con Salsa de Tomate

These were excellent meatballs – sorry, albóndigas – and I loved the bright orange-yellow of the tomato sauce – sorry, the salsa de tomate – over the creamy polenta.  I have a feeling we’ll be making this one again soon.

Albóndigas con Salsa de Tomate
Adapted from Spanish

8 ounces minced ground pork
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons fresh oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil, more if necessary
3 tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons red or dry white wine
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the pork, green onions, garlic, cheese, oregano, and plenty of salt and pepper.  Form into 12-14 small firm balls.  Heat the olive oil a large heavy frying pan over medium-high heat, then add the meatballs and cook for about 5 minutes, turning frequently, until evenly browned.  Add the wine and quickly deglaze the pan, then add the remaining ingredients and cover, lowering the heat to medium.  Cook gently for about 15 minutes until the tomatoes are saucy and the meatballs are cooked through.  Excellent served over polenta or with crusty bread.

0706 Pork and Kale Stir-fry

Tonight was the second time we’ve made this recipe – my cookbook notes tell me that it made a pleasantly spontaneous dinner back in the fall, when we just happened to have both kale and pork.  If it were cooler, I would’ve gone with the recipe on the facing page – a deliciously Portuguese dish of kale, sausages, and garlic-roasted potatoes – but it’s a million degrees here, and even turning on the stove was pushing our luck.

Instead – a delicious stir fry using a couple of  pork chops and a few handfuls of kale from the garden.  After a brief marinade in a salty-sweet sauce, the pork is quickly stir fried, then the kale steams for a bit, then it all gets tossed back together for a hearty, savory dinner.  It was too hot to make rice, so we piled our kale and pork on slices of bread and washed it all down with cold beer.

Pork and Kale Stir-fry
From Serving Up the Harvest

1 pound boneless pork tenderloin or chops, cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup tamari (or soy sauce, but I prefer the former)
3 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or sherry (not Chinese)
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 pound kale, stems discarded and leaves shredded

Whisk together 2 tablespoons tamari, 2 tablespoons wine, the oyster sauce, sugar, ginger, and garlic.  Add the pork and set aside to marinate for at least half an hour.

Heat a large wok or skillet over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl to coat.  Add the pork and marinade and stir fry until the pork is cooked through – about 5 minutes.  Remove the pork and sauce and keep warm.  Heat the remaining oil in the wok, then add the kale, 2 tablespoons tamari, and 1 tablespoon wine.  Stir fry for 1 minute, then cover and steam until the kale is tender, 3-5 minutes.  Return the pork and sauce to the wok and stir fry for 2-3 minutes longer.  Serve over sticky rice or with a fresh green salad on the side.  Serves 3-4, depending on how hungry you are.

0626 Goetta

Such is my love and devotion to my husband that I spent this morning making the house smell like weird meat so that he could have goetta for breakfast on Monday.

What is goetta, you ask? That was my question as well when Shane and I first started dating and he would ask for it when we went out for breakfast. Wikipedia describes goetta as German peasant food. Like scrapple or hash, it’s meat, usually pork, cut with a filler to make it stretch out over more meals or servings. Goetta is made with pork and steel-cut oats, plus a variety of seasonings and occasionally beef.

Goetta is pretty hard to find outside Cincinnati – you can mail-order it from Glier’s, but otherwise you’re pretty much on your own.  We had a couple of pork chops in the fridge, and following an aha! moment earlier this week, I decided to try to make it at home, using a recipe from the Glier’s blog.

Goetta ingredients

First, you simmer your pork for about an hour, thus cooking the meat and making a pork broth.  I didn’t take pictures of this step, so use your imagination.  Using your food processor or grinder, grind your now-cooked pork, an onion, some garlic, and other seasonings together.  Put all of this back in with the broth, then add steel-cut oats and stir until combined.  Are you imagining a weird porridge right now?  Because that’s what you’ve made.

Goetta pre-bake

Pour the weird porridge into a loaf pan or baking pan and bake for about 90 minutes at 350F. You’ll want to stir it a couple of times, which will also let you check to see if it has set. The final consistency should resemble meatloaf.

Goetta post-bake

But you’re not finished yet!  To enjoy goetta as intended, take a portion, smash it down flat, and fry it up with some eggs, like so:

goetta is delicious!!
photo by yummiec00kies

Perhaps you have noted that I haven’t given you the actual recipe.  That’s because the goetta wasn’t very good.  I mean, it had the right look and consistency, but when Shane fried it up for breakfast, he said it needed a LOT more pork and seasoning.  So, a reasonable first attempt, but not a recipe we’ll be repeating.  Sorry, Betty Reisen.